Late as usual, Lisa and I skittered eagerly into the scenic uptown Manhattan digs of Don, Melissa and Alan Rice for the much publicized and eagerly awaited Huet-A-Thon 2000! festivization. Catching my breath, I look around to find the premises as busy as the proverbial grasshopper hive. Andrew Munro Scott is in the kitchen fretting over his endive/goat cheese/mushroom appetizers, ably assisted by Jennifer Clark and Sue Ng, while Jeff Connell and Jayson Cohen calmly and rationally debate a point of order in the corner and Brad Kane looks on, slightly befuddled but smiling amiably, as is his wont. The pre-Huet warmup wines are being considered and consumed, but the crowd was kind enough to wait for our sorry late asses before beginning with the afternoon's main events.
Our hosts instruct me to deposit our offeratory Huet bottles into a tub of iced water in the bathtub, the better to soak off the labels in order to add a certain element of festive unpredictability to the proceedings, and when I emerge I see the newly rehearted Joseph L. Dressner hushing the crowd in order to ritually declare the commencing of the event: "Let the drunken Grand Cru jeebusizing begin!" he intones in a voice of thunder, and a happy titter passes through the crowd as we're once again off on a course of ritualized liver abuse.
I take my assigned seat on one of the H-shaped chairs, pick up a glass from on top of the special Huet-themed coasters ("Ooh la la! Extra magnifique! Superbe! 1998 Moëlleux"), and pour myself some Huet Vouvray Petillant 1997, then decide against tasting it and pour some Huet Vouvray Petillant 1995 instead. Then I say oh what the hell and just go back to the Huet Vouvray Petillant 1997 that I had started with in the first place, putting the Huet Vouvray Petillant 1995 aside for the moment.
The Huet Vouvray Petillant 1997 has truly shifted gear since I last had it a sixmonth or so ago, when it was lean and minerally and a bit stern. Now it has opened and loosened quite strikingly, so much so that I let out a little involuntary "muh!" of pleasure. It's still a pale, lightly fizzy wine, but now my noseholes are happy to come across a real yellowfruity, lightly floral hue to the chalky, bready base that was always there. The midpalated has seemingly filled out and gives more of an impression of softness, while the lemon-chalky finish remains intact. Tasty and more approachable than I'd expected from the Huet Vouvray Petillant 1997.
Now I return to the glass of Huet Vouvray Petillant 1995 that I had poured before I changed my mind and went back to taste the Huet Vouvray Petillant 1997. This wine hasn't really changed much, its character seems much like its sibling, nice pear and bakery tones up my nose, racy and not as yellow as the younger wine, still very nice, although a tiny bitter streak appears in the seventh inning stretch and stage-whispers in a distracting fashion through the finish. I decide I prefer the Huet Vouvray Petillant 1997 over the Huet Vouvray Petillant 1995, at least on this day.
The first two non-fizzes (read: real wines) are brought out to much oohing and aahing from the assembled Huetophiles. With a flourish, Don unveils the first victim, a Huet Le Haut-Lieu Moëlleux 1949, and there is a tussle as ten Vouvray-starved geeks make a mad rush for the bottle. I manage to wrestle it out of Jennifer's hands and pour myself a good hit. It's a pretty medium gold-bronze color, and it smells honeyed, earthy, light and lush, beeswax, sweet pear tart, lemon tea, more honey still, all in a buoyantly light-smelling aroma envelope. A sip, and it's a light wine, sweet but lightly-medium sweet and delicately strong in the manner of a prima ballerina. I would guess this might be twenty years old. Really impressive. I smell and smell and put an ounce or two aside for later research purposes.
Right next to the 1949 is a Huet Clos du Bourg Moëlleux 1970, and the color of the younger wine is a slightly deeper gold than the older one. Smells lightly ______ (my note is illegible), hints of vanilla, almond and burnt orange rind over a honeyed base, the nose is a bit more zaftig than the older wine, and when I sip the impression of Rubenesque charm is amplified. Medium-sweet, creamier and more of a burnt-sugar/caramel impression than was present in the 1949, with more weight and substance, minerals coated with honey. The wine has lovely balance and crispness and the fruit is tangy, solid and flavorful. Very pretty, rich Vouvray.
Responding to the crowd's swelling, spontaneous chant of Jeebus Vouvray! Jeebus Vouvray!, Don races to the tub and reemerges with some more bottles to throw to the huddled masses yearning to drink Huet. Here's a Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Sec 1986, and the crowd is momentarily silenced, for the pale gold wine is quite bright and dry, a bit startling after the two sweeter wines. There is a pause while the geeks recalibrate, and then the examination begins on a deeper level. It smells vivid and chalky, powdery-polleny aromas dancing quickly in the glass. Tastes bracingly crisp and squeaky-dry, with weight and substance but vivid, happy acidity that makes me want to get up and do a hornpipe. A racy, strong wine that Dressner is moved to call "celestial." Only Kane doesn't much like it, but my kind offer to pour a spoonful of sugar into his glass to "sweet it up real purty" is not accepted.
And what's this that Don flings into the sea of clutching hands? Why, it's a Huet Vouvray Le Mont Demisec 1952, and it's a medium gold color, looks about ten years old. I take a sniff, and my nose-o-meter goes right off the scale. Not to use hyperbole, but this is the best smelling liquid in the history of the universe. Here's only a partial listing of the individual aroma components that one could discern with careful attention:
1) Beeswax, the kind in the comb;
2) Earl Grey tea;
3) Almonds (both raw and roasted);
5) Orange rind (navel and mandarin);
and many more. But really, this one is much more than the sum of its parts. The aromas mingle and dance in the glass, changing hues and tones like a kaleidescope, shifting one way, then another, first almond dominating, then orange rind, then chalkiness, all interweaving and singing together like the final septet from Marriage of Figaro. The wine is very lightly but discernably sweet, has festive acidity, is balanced like a Wallenda (one of the non-falling ones), layered like a cliff in the Grand Canyon, and flows into a long, humming Earl Grey and mandarin-orange finish. Simply exquisite, still startlingly youthful and vibrant after almost fifty years, really and truly a marvel. If the wines get any better than this my head may explode, but I'm willing to risk it.
After that many of us feel the need for a smoke, and so the cigar break, originally not scheduled until after the next pair of wines, commences now. All of the participants except Dressner, who has been enjoined by his physicians, are issued Partagas Lusitanias (Gaston Huet's favorite brand, and, not coincidentally, Lisa's too) and silently contemplate the great mysteries amidst flowing blue grey cedar- and chestnut-accented smoke.
Mr. Connell brings out some wonderful cheesy potatoes and a char from Alaska, if I heard correctly. A fish, a pink fish, very tasty it was, and made quick work of, revitalizing precious Vouvray-shocked bodily fluids.
After this brief but well-needed break we set to it once more, with a trio of demis, first a Huet Vouvray Le Mont Demisec 1969, which is a medium-pale gold color and smells of fresh-cut apples, apple juice with nutmeg, and is ever so slightly petillant, sparkling lightly on the tongue. There is speculation that the bottle is going through a malolactic fermentation, and Dressner attempts to corner the market by yelling "Keep this one away from the gentiles!" to no avail. Lightly sweet, layered, yet another beautifully balanced, richly flavorful wine.
Its first partner is a Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Demisec 1971, and this bottle is showing the freshest and youngest of the three I've had in the past year--a pale lemon-gold color, smells lushly lemon-chalky and bright, with a very light waxy-wooly sheen to the nosal impression. Tangy and fairly tight, this is still a baby, with a closely-wrapped core of yellow fruit that flows into a crisp lemon-tart finish. Give it another thirty years to loosen up and it'll be a real gem.
The third of the trio, a Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Demisec 1961 is, mournfully enough, quite corked, breaking the thirty-bottle run of luck that we had going from the last jeebus. All heads bow for a brief moment of silence, then we console ourselves by tucking greedily into Jayson's chicken curry.
Assuaged, we move on to some sweeties.
Here's a Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Moëlleux 1er Trie 1996. It's a medium straw-lemon color, and smells brightly tropical and lightly waxy, hints of pineapple and apricot over a firm base of stony minerality. Weighty in the mouth, intensely packed with lemon cream-tropical flavors and more chalkiness, quite sweet and intense but also very crisp and balanced, giving a sense of holding some strength in reserve, biding its time. Quite a trick, to be so rich and yet have a sense of firmness and reserve at the same time. Delicious.
Next up is its younger brother, the Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Moëlleux 1er Trie 1997, and the different character of the wine is apparent from first nostrilization--a lush noseful of exuberant pineapple, botrytis, hay, apricot, a bucketful of bright, vividly fruity nosecandy. The wine tastes equally exuberant, hard to tell if the mineral component is there under all the puppyish fruit, but it hardly matters to me. Seems a bit softer than its younger brother, but that might be a trick of the fruit-forwardness hiding what's underneath. Desserty-sweet and rich, a creamy, happy mouthful that waltzes close to the edge of over-the-topness, then dances nimbly away from the precipice. Beautiful.
The next 1997, the Huet Vouvray Le Mont Moëlleux 1er Trie 1997, isn't quite as brash as the Bourg, although that's not saying much. Chalkier-smelling, less botrytisy, the nose is a bit lighter and less tropical, although all the same components are present. A taste, and a bit more structure is in evidence, more of a sense of focus, although not nearly to the same extent as the 96 Bourg. This one may be a touch sweeter, with a bit less weight in the mouth than the first '97, although again that's not saying much and this is still quite a dense, richly packed mouthful. Very nice. No, scratch that, I'm getting spoiled: Another beautiful wine.
To complete the trio we have the Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Moëlleux 1er Trie 1997, and, to oversimplify, this wine seems to strike a fine balance between its two vintage siblings, with a velvety fruity pineapple-wax-apricot-mineral nose that isn't quite as fervid as the Bourg but is happier than the Le Mont. This is the silkiest of the three, with the best compromise between structure and lushness, you sense the stony undercurrent while being tickled by the happy fruitiness, hitting both bass and treble. Botrytis is there, as it is in all three, but it doesn't dominate and serves to spice things up and add another layer to the mix. The wine has great fullness but is balanced to the point of zero-G, velvety and nimble. Extraordinary, and my favorite of the three, although it feels a bit silly to make nice distinctions between three such wonderful wines.
What, there's more?!
It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it.
Here's a Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Moëlleux 1er Trie 1990, and whoops, it's quite appallingly corked.
We try a Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Moëlleux 1989, and this has a bit of development, smelling of chalk, light earth and a touch of honey, with a slightly funky wooly streak. Tastes lightly sweet, not quite desserty, rich and a bit rounded, with the usual strong crisp spine, flowing into an apricot-honey finish. After a few minutes the wooly component of the nose starts to seem like a very mild cork taint, much as it did in the 89 Constance that we had at an offline a few months back, and I pass my glass around to survey opinions. Denials at first, but with a bit more time it becomes more apparent, and I think a consensus was reached by the end of the evening.
What an amazing lineup of wines. People now go back to their respective glasses, swirling lazily and smiling dreamily. I've saved a glass of the 1949 to savor, but it's not where I put it, and a cold sweat begins to break out on my brow just as Don enters to announce the beginning of the evening's ritual free-range naked baby run. We wait eagerly, the naked baby races gleefully about, presents us with the evening's final wine and, after sustained applause, departs to slumberland.
The last of the wines, presented so nakedly and gleefully, is a Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu 1947. There is no Moëlleux designation on the bottle, but it is assumed. The wine is a deep orange-amber color, the deepest color of the evening, and the nose is profound and dark, apricot, iron oxide, tea, orange rind and almonds. Quite rounded and glyceriney in the mouth, the flavors are weighty and orange-apricotty. The wine is quite crisp, but the fruit has somewhat of flattened-out, pressed-flower feel to it. Sweet, but more Mo‘lleux-plus sweet than desserty-sweet. With air a vanilla-bean component emerges in the nose to mingle with the darker orange-apricot aromas, and the taste takes on a toasty-marshmallow creamy aspect. Really quite delicious, but this is the only wine of the evening that looks its age, and those who have had it before suggest the color ought to be more of a deep gold than an orange-amber. It's a bit earthbound, but it's still got a lot going on, layers and layers of rich smellies, a slightly battered old soldier.
Mercifully, my missing glass of '49 turns up in the kitchen, having been cleared from its place on the floor to avoid naked baby run complications, and I compare the two wines side by side. The '49 is much, much lighter in body, less sweet and leaner, without the glyceriney feel, but the wine is fresher and more vibrant, tarter and chalkier.
There follows a bit of birthday cake and coffee--really, can you think of a better way to spend your birthday?--hushed discussions and heated debates as favorites and nonfavorites are compared. For form's sake Kane is declared wrong on all counts, and we flushed and weary participants offer our thanks to our extraordinarily kind hosts, bid our farewells and slowly make our way to the subway, feet never touching the ground.